Fixing What is Broken
Kiath gently wrapped his talons around a small wooden bowl resting on the floor. Rainwater had gathered within the bowl, leftover droplets sprinkling from the torn roof. Even though the storm had dissipated, several clouds still hung overhead. The moon shifted through the clouds, peeking into the mandira through the hole. It was always a welcome sight after a storm. Feeling the golden beams gleam over his feathers, he lifted his gaze upwards towards the sky, a mournful look creeping over his face.
“Your stars and moon are beautiful as always, Zota,” he lamented. He carefully lifted the bowl and shuffled his way back across the nave. His steps were slow and deliberate to prevent water from spilling out, but the bowl was so full of rainwater, it sloshed over its wooden rim and splattered onto the warped floorboards. By the time he reached the doors, the bowl was half gone. “Better to have half than nothing at all, I suppose,” Kiath grunted.
Dropping to his knees, the avys studied the blood-stained gashes in the doors. Astra was only a child, but she had managed to cut deep lines into the wood. Was it because the wood was so weak from age and rot? Were nyako normally so strong? Or was she so terrified of the hunter that her body had granted her such strength in an attempt of self-preservation?
Kiath realized he had no rag to clean with and quickly tore a wide strip of cloth from his robes. He could easily patch it back on with some thread and a needle. That didn’t bother him. Paracletes shouldn’t wear such lavish clothes, he had often thought as he pulled on his robes. He dipped the rag into the rainwater and began to work quickly.
He worked until he felt his knees grow sore and continued to work through the pain. The rag and the water had turned into a deep, dark hue of red. Once the blood was wiped clean from the doors, Kiath set to work on cleaning up the muddy footprints she had left. It was surprisingly more difficult to clean than the blood, but he kept at it. He crawled into his own mandira from the threshold, cleaning up any trace of Astra that he could find.
He worked throughout the night, for her sake.
His talons trembled as he cleaned and his mind kept drifting back to the slumbering nyako in the back room. How long had she been running for before arriving at Errus? How far had she come? He thought back to the mishakai who had pursued her. If they had traveled from Drogton, she must have stopped to rest somewhere. The only place she could have done that was the Terfail Thicket, but that was a dangerous place by itself. It was a miracle that she had made it to Errus in one piece.
Finally finishing with his work, Kiath rose from the floor, satisfied. He went to close the doors and found the sky had cleared during the night. The cobalt sun was starting to rise over the crumbling rooftops of Errus. He rubbed his eyes and stifled a yawn. He felt so exhausted from the dramatics of the night before. Feeling his tired body ache, Kiath closed the doors and quietly stepped through the nave, feeling the glow of the crystal warm him as he passed by. His eyes drooping, he pushed the door to the back room open to look in on the nyako.
The bed was empty.
Kiath felt the exhaustion drain away only to be replaced by dread and panic. The worst images filled his mind as he stepped inside the room. He imagined the nyako and the mishakai and all the terror he had seen in her eyes the night before. What he couldn’t imagine was how could she have left the mandira? He was standing between the room and the door. Even if she had found the strength and courage to try and sneak out, he would have seen her.
A soft whimper from the corner of the room startled him. Twisting his head about, he found Astra cowering against the wall beside the door. Her bloodied paws left thin streaks of red against the stone. She hadn’t left, but she had attempted to hide herself. Relieved beyond measure, Kiath bent down and reached out to her. The nyako pressed herself closer against the wall. Her face was wet from fresh tears.
“Please, don’t hurt me,” she begged. Her voice was barely above a whisper.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Kiath promised her. “I have no desire to hurt you, Astra. I want to help you.”
“H-How do you know my name? Who are you?” Her eyes darted around the simple room. “Where am I?”
“You don’t remember last night?” Kiath asked. “You came here, to the House of Jopara, during the storm. You clawed at the doors so much you started bleeding.” He gestured to her paws. She gave them a quick glance, but said nothing. “You were being hunted by a mishakai and you came here to hide, I think. He came looking, but I pointed him in another direction. After that, you told me your name and I put you in my bed.” He nodded to the cot. “You’ve been asleep since. You don’t remember?”
Astra shook her head.
The excitement might have been too much for her last night, it may have given her a brief lapse in her memory, Kiath thought. Or she might have made herself sick, running around in the wilderness. Fevers can do a great many things to one’s mind.
“My name,” the avys placed a hand on his chest, “is Kiath. I’m a paraclete of Jopara.”
“K-K-Kiath?” Astra stuttered.
“Yes, that’s right.” Kiath looked at her closely. She had been so tired and scared, she wasn’t given a chance to clean herself before falling asleep. Clumps of mud were stuck to her and her paws were matted with blood. “Would you like to get cleaned up?” he offered. “I don’t have much, but you’re welcome to it.”
Astra picked at the dried mud for a long moment, then nodded and rose to her feet. She took two steps, stumbled, and fell forward. Acting quickly, Kiath caught her and saw her eyes rolling upward. He pressed his talons against her forehead and found it burning.
A fever! I knew it! Kiath felt his panic return. Hold on, little one!
The avys wrapped his talons around her shoulders and back, bringing the nyako close to his chest. He watched her head swing and lurch, soft moans rippling from her lips. Kiath straightened to his feet, his pace quick. He felt the light of the crystal radiate warmth as he drew closer. He gently laid Astra between him and the crystal. With a quick look, he could see that the fever was the worst of her problems. Her claws had become splintered in her desperate attempt to come inside the mandira. The damage extended to their base and had drawn blood, caking her paws in red.
Kiath knelt and formed his talons into a diamond. His eyes focused on the crystal. “O merciful Jopara,” he murmured. “For the sake of this child, I beseech you. May your fire burn the fever from her mind! May your brilliance heal her wounds!”
The glow of the crystal intensified and enveloped the nyako with an aura of alabaster flames. Astra moaned and twisted on the floor as vapors rose from her forehead and her claws shimmered. Kiath watched in silence as the light died away and Astra opened her eyes. She looked around, clearly confused, and found Kiath hovering over her.
“What happened?” she asked . She watched the avys lay his talons on her forehead again and smile down at her. “How did I get out here?”
“You were sick,” Kiath explained. “You had a terrible fever and I asked Jopara to heal you. He heard my prayers and used his healing taiki to burn the fever from your body.” He looked at her claws. “It seems that he restored your claws, too.”
Astra sat up and raised her hands. Her claws were no longer splintered. They were whole again with no sign of ever being broken. Her paws were still filthy with dried blood and mud clumps.
“Let’s get you cleaned up, Astra.”
Kiath led Astra back to the cot, gently setting her on the edge. Her frame trembled more while the paraclete ran his talons along her hair. The avys remembered he had used up the only clean water in the mandira. He could easily go outside to the dragon fountain and fill up a bucket with a fresh supply, but with the mishakai on the prowl for Astra, he couldn’t just leave her alone. He could hide her away, but that wasn’t a guarantee she would be kept safe. He couldn’t just leave her defenseless, but he couldn’t leave her to wallow in filth.
So troubled was he that he failed to notice that the answer to his trouble had already presented itself. Astra had begun cleaning herself by licking the blood and the dried mud off her paws. She didn’t complain, nor did she grimace, she just kept silent as she groomed herself. It wasn’t until she took to licking her paws and rubbing them over her face that she caught Kiath staring at her.
She stopped and stared back at the avys; one of her paws was curled into a ball and resting on her cheek. “What?” she asked. “Is something wrong?”
Kiath found it difficult to find the right words. “You’re licking yourself,” he said bluntly. “Why are you licking yourself?”
“I’m getting clean,” said Astra. “If you want me to stop, I can. Do you have any clean water I can use?”
“No. I could go out and get some, but I don’t want to leave you alone, especially with that mishakai Kumaku lurking around the town.”
“Then this works for now.” Astra continued her grooming and within a short time, her hands and face were void of any filth from the night before. “How do I look?” she asked.
“You look much better, Astra,” said Kiath, “but doesn’t that bother you?”
“Not at all. nyako have groomed themselves for ages like this. It’s what we do. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.”
Kiath felt awkward. He had never watched a nyako’s hygienic ritual before. “Do your people do that to clean...um...everything?”
“No, we take baths like everyone else, but we do what we can when we need to.”
“I see. Well, that’s educational.” Kiath looked at her stained clothes. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have much to offer you. I could go out into the market and see what they have, but-”
“It’s okay. I don’t mind, really. I’ve been wearing these clothes since I ran away from my master. I can wear them for as long as I need to.” She growled and started scratching herself. “I just wish they weren’t so itchy!”
“Why not take them off?” Kiath suggested. He quickly realized how that might have sounded if someone had overheard him. He quickly grabbed the blanket from his cot and held it up between him and Astra. “You can use this to cover yourself until I throw something together for you.”
“You would do that?” the nyako asked.
“Of course. It’s my duty to help those in need.”
A small smile appeared on Astra’s face. Without warning, she began to pull her clothes off. Kiath quickly hid his face behind the blanket and waited as the little one undressed herself. The clothes noisily thumped against the floor before Astra took the blanket. Kiath caught a brief glimpse of her back as she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders. Dozens of scar lines criss-crossed her back and shoulders. They were old and had healed, but the lines were left bare and hairless.
Jopara have mercy! He thought miserably. What horrors has this child been through?
Kiath found his eyes wandering to the brand mark on Astra’s neck. It was such a curious thing. The tattered wing pulsated as if it had a life of its own. The avys was drawn to it, as if it were calling to him, and reached out to touch it. With his talon hovering over the brand, he felt a heat, like a smoldering coal, emanating from it.
The brand suddenly flashed a bright red and Kiath felt a sudden jolt in the tips of his talon. He hadn’t pulled it back when Astra suddenly began thrashing and let out an ear splitting scream. “No, no! I’ll behave this time, Master! Don’t lock me away again!” she wailed.
“Astra, what-” Kiath squawked as he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his arm, followed by something hot cascading over it. He looked down to find some of his robes had been shredded and wet with his blood. Some of his plumage had been stripped away and fluttered to the floor. He grabbed his arm and looked up at Astra. She had moved so quickly he didn’t even see her take a swipe at him. “Astra?”
The nyako stood frozen on the spot, her eyes glistening with tears. She looked at her hand and saw the fresh blood dripping from her claws. “I-I hurt you,” she whimpered, her lips trembling. Her legs gave out and she fell onto the cot. “I hurt you. Please, don’t lock me away. I’m so sorry. I won’t do it again, I swear! I don’t know what happened!”
“It’s alright, little one.” Kiath clamped what was left of his sleeve onto his wound to stop the bleeding. “It’s just a scratch. You’re not going to be locked away, you have my word.”
Astra shook her head wildly. She looked to the blood and feathers on the floor. She could see that he was trying to put on a brave facade. She retreated further across the cot, pulling more of the blanket over herself until there was nothing but a bundle of cloth curled up on the mattress. The only trace of her Kiath could see were her bright sapphire eyes.
“Everything’s going to be alright, Astra. I’m not mad, really. It’s just a scratch. It just needs to be cleaned and dressed and it’ll be fine. Better yet, I’ll go to the crystal right now and ask Jopara to heal me like he healed you. We can talk later, if you want?”The blue-eyed bundle said nothing. Kiath stepped into the nave, wincing at the pain in his arm, but his own pain was the least of his worries. He could still feel the tingling sensation in his talon from the jolt, the strange warmth of the brand, and his ears were still ringing from Astra’s scream.